Founders Are Not Heroes. Let’s Get Back To Work

Editor’s note: Derek Andersen is the founder of Startup Grind, a 15-city event series hosted around the world to help educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. He’s also ex-Electronic Arts, the founder of Commonred and Vaporware Labs.

A few weeks ago a founder called me to commiserate. He told me about how his product had taken longer than expected to build, how his co-founder was gone, and how he was almost out of money. There was desperation, but more than anything he longed for pity and a shoulder to cry on. My response? “Please shut up and get back to work.”

In 2010 Forbes called FLOODGATE general partner Ann Miura-Ko “the most powerful woman in startups.” While speaking at Startup Grind in Silicon Valley last week she said, “There is this notion that being an entrepreneur is a romantic ideal. There’s nothing romantic in working 100 hour weeks, not seeing your family, and throwing out code you’ve been working on for two year because your co-founder decided you’re going to pivot.”  The Social Network often gets blamed for the onslaught of recent founder canonization, but in reality it has been going on for much longer than the last few years.

Whenever someone tells me how incredibly difficult it is to be an entrepreneur I think how foolish we look. Does it say “Chief Sulking Officer” on my $5 startup tee shirt? So your initial product didn’t get traction; how tough. Your cofounder just quit; what a calamity. I’m guilty of moping around for weeks after a potential company changing deal fell through, and I cried (no shame) when I realized that a product I poured my soul into turned out to be a spectacular failure.

But let’s not kid ourselves; this is what we signed up for. You don’t join the army and expect room service, just like you don’t have lunch at McDonalds expecting a boost in self-esteem.  If being an entrepreneur is your professional life calling, then at least attempt to be up for the challenge you accepted. Ann told me, “When you present our best entrepreneurs with these obstacles, it’s almost like the don’t see it.” Cowboy up people.

Part of being in this for the long haul is about maintaining some sort of balance in your life. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently said, “I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids.” Unfortunately when you’re trying to build something from nothing you usually don’t have that luxury.

As the mother of three children aged 10 months, 3, and 5, Ann wakes up each morning at 5am to get a head start before her family gets going. When asked if she wants to be the CEO of Yahoo, Ann responded playfully, “Why is everyone making such a big deal about Marissa Mayer? She has one child. It’s not a big deal yet. Have three or four, then I’ll be impressed.”

But work life balance is less about keeping everything equal as it is making sure everything is in order. “It’s really hard to think about balance from that perspective because balance implies you get home and everything is quiet, dinner is cooked, kids are really well behaved. Mine aren’t. My house is usually a crazy mess and someone is screaming. It’s never a balance. It’s never a moment where you feel good about everything. I just work to try to keep it together and hope that no one gets hurt in the process.” Everything isn’t perfect, and no one is acting like it is, but you do the best you can and you carry on. With companies like Twitter, Chegg, Modcloth, and Zimride in FLOODGATE’s portfolio, Ann says that their most successful companies are the ones that work the hardest.

“I’ve never done better because I was smarter. It’s just because I worked a whole lot harder. People will (succeed) because they work harder. That’s 90% of it.” Considering Ann is an ex-Yale undergrad and Stanford PhD, this provides idiots like me and 99% of YouTube commenterssome hope. If we work hard enough, don’t paint ourselves into a corner, and never give up, maybe 20-years later we’ll still be standing. Or as Dave McClure eloquently put it we will be able to say, “It’s been a wonderful life.” We’re founders not heroes. Let’s get to work.